Cruising conjures images of sun-drenched beaches and warm, humid nights. In the winter, all major cruise lines reposition their ships to areas such as Florida and Southern California, where snow and ice are extremely unlikely. Nonetheless, winter cruise weather can be unpredictable. Chilly weather, rain and sudden temperature drops are always possible. Dressing in layers is the key to staying comfortable on a winter cruise.

Daytime Touring

Daytime temperatures are mild in most winter cruise destinations. Jeans or heavy pants are generally preferred over shorts. Layer thin shirts rather than wearing a single bulky item. High-tech pieces such as those made by Polartec or Gore Tex are ideal, but any fabric is generally sufficient. Always carry a waterproof jacket or other rain gear.

Evening Activities

Many cruisers like to dress for dinner, with a generally accepted dress code of “resort chic.” On warm-weather cruises this translates to khaki pants and sundresses, but these clothes may not be sufficient on a winter cruise. Dress for the weather in lightweight sweaters or heavier fabrics. Layering allows you to move comfortably between the warm indoor venues and the cooler deck.

Formal Nights

A typical seven-night cruise features two formal nights. Far from the tuxedos and ball gowns of old, most cruisers choose a sports jacket and tie or a cocktail dress. Pack a dressy coat and tights or other warm undergarments in case the weather turns cold on formal night. If you want to dress to the hilt but do not want to pack a tux, visit your ship’s website. Many cruise lines offer formal wear rentals at a reasonable fee for the duration of the cruise.

Days at Sea

On a warm-weather cruise, many passengers spend days at sea soaking up the sunshine in a swimsuit. On a winter cruise, it may be too cold to swim. Some ships provide blankets and hot chocolate on the open decks. If you want to swim, consider packing your own thick beach towel, as shipboard pool towels are often thin. Interior spaces may be overheated when the weather is cold, so dress in layers if you plan to spend time both indoors and outside.

Holiday Sailings

Cruise lines make the most of holiday sailings, with extensive decorations and special shows and events. Many passengers enjoy dressing festively, but unpredictable weather can make it difficult to know what to pack. Take two versions of your favorite holiday outfits--one for warm weather and one for cold. Minimize packing by choosing items that can mix and match.